Friday, September 30, 2016

Spotlight (+ Tour Giveaway): How to Make Victoria Sponge


This looks like a really good book. Do check it out . . .



 
Click here to purchase your copy.

About the Book




Victoria Sponge – a well-known cake? Maybe, but also a wife and mother of four children. Disorganized and chaotic, with obligations galore, sweet Victoria clings to God, her best friend who shares His amazing love with her. From tripping over a hoover left in the hallway to discovering her son’s desire to die because he is different, she journeys through her own Lent. Giving up is not an option, but saying ‘yes’ to God each day is. Tragedy and comical events follow Vicki through her week. Does Victoria Sponge rise through all the messiness that life offers or does she sink?


About the Author




Born in England, Margaret Kazmierczak loves storytelling, but dyslexia made writing difficult. After marrying and birthing three children, she finally got around to it. She and husband Peter live in Dorset, United Kingdom with two daughters.


Guest Post from Margaret Kazmierczak 


For those that know me cooking is not a talent that I am famous for. I follow the recipes, but for some unknown reason my cakes remain flat, albeit cleverly disguised with chocolate.

My friends were, quite understandably, shocked that I appeared to have written a cookery book. My friends let me introduce the Baker who inspired me to write, ‘How to Make Victoria Sponge’. His name is God the Father. This cook needs all the help she can get.

In 2010 God literally took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to become vulnerable. He took away my health and job. An active middle aged woman reduced to a shell. For two years I struggled to come to terms with my condition. Then one night I prayed and asked what I was supposed to do now? The message was simple, “write a book”. Well I could think up a million and one reasons why not to write a book. I declared them one by one but God the Father was having none of it. He reminded me of WHO was commissioning me.

To say that my reading and writing skills were on a par with my cooking skills was an understatement. So I stopped questioning and listened to His answer. “I shall give you the ingredients and you provide the humour and story outline with your life experiences.” So Victoria Sponge was born. Not a cookery book per se but a recipe for a closer relationship with God the Father through story and petition.

This journey took two years, a long time to wait for a cake to rise! The proof, however, was in the tasting which for some time was bitter due to rejection. Then a sequence of events happened one after the other and ‘How to Make Victoria Sponge’ was cooked, oops, birthed. I have been blown away with the face to face reviews in England of the book. A Methodist minister used it to empower her congregation, to show them how even the simplest things in life can lead to a prayerful response.

Victoria known as Vicki, married to Bob, is a normal woman with four children. The book looks at a week in her life and compares it to Jesus’ Lent week. Many issues are explored through the pages. Vicki Sponge could be you or me and the response to each situation, a solution to your own challenges.

Without the Baker this book would end up like my cakes! The writing of it helped me to begin a new life and I hope it helps you to do so too if you read and journey through its pages.


Blog Stops

September 29: A Reader’s Brain
September 30: The Power of Words (spotlight)
October 2: Bukwurmzzz
October 3: Artistic Nobody
October 4: Quiet Quilter
October 6: Mary Hake
October 10: Petra’s Hope
October 12: Onceuponatime


Giveaway





Review: The Book Club Murders




The Book Club Murders
By Leslie Nagel
The Oakwood Mystery Series #1
Alibi, 2016


Summary

In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.

Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.

Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.

Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.

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My thoughts

The Book Club Murders . . . how could any reader resist this title? There’s a lot to like about this mystery. Leslie Nagel is a very talented writer and the story is well crafted. Romance plays a big part. I loved the character depth and relational drama. I was hooked from the beginning and didn’t want to put it down.

But this story was different from the cute cozy that I expected. While a few cozy elements are present – small-town setting, amateur detective, quirky characters, murders take place off screen – The Book Club Murders felt more like a traditional murder mystery. And that’s not a criticism, because I enjoy many traditional mysteries and police procedurals. Charley and her police detective Marc are appealing, intelligent characters – and talk about chemistry!

However, The Book Club Murders is promoted as a cozy mystery, and two elements were present that I certainly wasn’t expecting to find in this genre. One, Charley and Marc’s relationship was pretty steamy – nothing explicit, but – well, steamy. Secondly, profanity was frequent and strong, making me quite uncomfortable. This type of language was totally unnecessary and detracted from what was otherwise a great murder mystery.

I loved the backdrop of a community book club and its group of Agathas, especially how their reading list became connected to the murders. Leslie Nagel knows how to spin an entertaining story and I’m sure many mystery fans will enjoy The Book Club Murders. This is a strong debut mystery and my 3-star rating would have been much higher had it not been for the excessive use of profanity.


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Leslie Nagel is a writer and teacher of writing at a local community college. Her debut novel, The Book Club Murders, is the first in the Oakwood Mystery Series.

Leslie lives in the all too real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where murders are rare but great stories lie thick on the ground. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son and daughter, hiking, tennis and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

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Thank you to Great Escapes Tours for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



Thursday, September 29, 2016

Melissa Spoelstra’s ‘Total Family Makeover’ Family Fun Night Giveaway


Begin to build your family discipleship and become the key disciple-makers in your children's lives with Melissa Spoelstra's new book, Total Family Makeover. Disciples are made, not born. Whether your children are babes in arms or teenagers getting ready to leave the nest, making disciples at home starts with you! Give your family a makeover with this practical approach to helping your children learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Plan an evening of fun, pizza, devotionals, and games with your family! Melissa is giving away a Family Fun Night Prize Pack.


total-family-makeover-400 


One grand prize winner will receive:

total-family-makeover-prize-collage 

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on October 7. The winner will be announced October 10 on Melissa's blog.


total-family-makeover-enterbanner

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review (+ Tour Giveaway): A March to Remember




A March to Remember
By Anna Loan-Wilsey
Hattie Davish Mysteries #5
Kensington, 2016


Summary

Traveling secretary Hattie Davish is taking her singular talents to Washington, D.C., to help Sir Arthur Windom-Greene research his next book. But in the winding halls of the nation’s capital, searching for the truth can sometimes lead to murder . . .

Hattie is in her element, digging through dusty basements, attics, and abandoned buildings, not to be denied until she fishes out that elusive fact. But her delightful explorations are dampened when she witnesses a carriage crash into a carp pond beneath the shadow of the Washington Monument. Alarmingly, one of the passengers flees the scene, leaving the other to drown.

The incident only heightens tensions brought on by the much publicized arrival of “Coxey’s Army,” thousands of unemployed men converging on the capital for the first ever organized “march” on Washington. When one of the marchers is found murdered in the ensuing chaos, Hattie begins to suspect a sinister conspiracy is at hand. As she expands her investigations into the motives of murder and closes in on the trail of a killer, she is surprised and distraught to learn that her research will lead her straight to the highest levels of government . . .



My thoughts

Washington, D.C. – 1894

A March to Remember is a cozy mystery of quality – entertaining, informative, and impressive. Mystery, history, romance are blended together in a narrative that easily flows across the page. This book is #5 of the Hattie Davish historical series, and I regret to only have discovered Hattie as the series apparently concludes. A March to Remember can stand alone, but I’d like to read the previous mysteries.

Hattie is a traveling secretary who works for Sir Arthur, and this story takes them to the Washington, D. C. of 1894, where they are guests in the home of Senator Smith and his wife. Hattie is an endearing, caring, and intelligent heroine, and I loved her perceptive thoughts that are so relevant for today: “The more I was around the senator, the more I learned he did nothing uncalculated, nothing but for its political significance.”

Anna Loan-Wilsey skillfully conveys the feel of the era and setting, completely pulling the reader back in time. The first protest march on Washington provides a fascinating backdrop for A March to Remember, one that I found very interesting. Led by Jacob Coxey, thousands of unemployed workers known as Coxey’s Army descended on the Capitol to present their grievances. “These men were only a small fraction of the millions of jobless men and women across the country who were facing starvation, some of whom chopped wood, broke rocks, and even resorted to prostitution in exchange for food for their families.”

The mystery is well plotted, with suspects aplenty – but not too many to keep up with. I read mysteries more for enjoyment rather than trying to figure out whodunit, and there was lots to enjoy in A March to Remember.

I liked how the story focuses on human nature and appreciated Hattie’s thoughts regarding the madam, Lottie Fox: “I was stuck by the morality of a woman who most couldn’t conceive had any at all.”

Recommended to all who enjoy a good historical mystery.

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Anna Loan-Wilsey, biologist, librarian, and author, writes the historical Hattie Davish Mystery series featuring a Victorian traveling secretary who solves crimes in every historic town she visits. The first in the series, A Lack of Temperance, set in 1890’s Eureka Springs, Arkansas, (an Amazon #1 bestseller) was followed by Anything But Civil (set in Galena, IL), A Sense of Entitlement (an iBook #1 bestseller set in Newport, RI), and A Deceptive Homecoming (set in St. Joseph, MO, Hattie’s hometown).

A March to Remember finds Hattie caught up in the political intrigues surrounding Coxey’s Army and the first “march” on Washington, D.C.

Anna lives in a Victorian farmhouse near Ames, Iowa with her family where she is happily working on new mystery adventures.


Thank you to Great Escapes Tours for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


GIVEAWAY

Enter to win an autographed set of all 5 Hattie Davish Mysteries books (print version, U.S. only). Click on image or link below.





Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: Fifth Column


Fifth Column
By Mike Hollow
The Blitz Detective #2
Lion Hudson/Kregel, 2016


Summary

Detective Inspector Jago investigates, uncovering deception and betrayal.

At first glance, the young woman found in the early hours of the morning where bombs have landed is just another casualty of the previous night’s air raid. But when the post-mortem shows signs of strangulation, Detective Inspector Jago is called on to investigate.

The dead woman is smartly dressed but carries no identification. However, a local engineering company reports a staff member has failed to appear at work that morning and the body is quickly identified as that of Miss Mary Watkins.

DI Jago’s initial interviews yield little fruit; no one can think of a reason why Mary would be murdered. But as the investigation continues DI Jago begins to uncover a trail of deception and betrayal.


My thoughts

Atmospheric … methodical ... authentic ... impressive.

Although not particularly fond of WWII fiction, I’m crazy about British drama and police procedurals, so I decided to give Fifth Column a try – and am I ever glad I did! Those four adjectives above don’t even begin to do it justice. Mike Hollow is an excellent descriptive storyteller. He knows his setting, police methodology, and human nature – and his narrative is easy to follow.

Air-raid damage in Plaistow, 1940
Fifth Column’s West Ham setting in London’s East End gives an urban grittiness to this WWII mystery, and I can’t remember when I’ve been pulled into a story’s atmosphere this much. Sometimes life gives a false semblance of certainty, but the Blitz wiped that out. Homes were destroyed, lives torn asunder. People slept in shelters at night and struggled to maintain a normal life during the daytime. The Blitz “flung ordinary people into the front line. Enemy bombs rained down on docks, factories and homes alike in chaotic destruction. Death struck randomly from street to street. No one could be sure they would be alive the next morning.”

I really like John Jago, a detective inspector in London’s Metropolitan Police, based at West Ham police station. At 18, he was conscripted to fight in the British Army during the Great War, and struggles with lingering memories. When Jago mentions having purchased his “shelter bed” at Selfridges (PBS drama by the same name), I loved being able to picture that London department store. Now he’s 42 and a bachelor, but only because he hasn’t yet found the right person. There’s a hint of romance with an American war correspondent, Dorothy, and I look forward to the growth of their relationship.

Fifth Column is also strong as a police procedural. Suspects abound, but I never found it confusing to follow. The mystery is solved through meticulous, step-by-step investigation that reflects human behaviors that never change. I had never heard of the term “fifth column” and was interested to learn that it refers to a group of people who sympathize with their country’s enemy.

British fiction sometimes contains a little mild language, but I didn’t notice any and thought this was a clean read. The spiritual thread is subtle, mainly brought out toward the end as Jago and Dorothy talk about evil, justice and judgement. I suspect faith themes will be further developed as the series progresses.

I’d like to read the previous book, Direct Hit, and look forward to much more from Mike Hollow.

Highly recommended.

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Mike Hollow studied languages at Cambridge, then worked for the BBC and then Tearfund. Now a freelance writer and editor, he lives in Basingstoke (England) with his wife Margaret. A popular poet, his work has been widely performed and has appeared in many collections.

Website

Thank you to Kregel and Lion Hudson for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review (+ Tour Giveaway): A Lady Unrivaled




A Lady Unrivaled
By Roseanna M. White
Ladies of the Manor #3
Bethany House, 2016


Summary

Amid the Unforgettable Cotswolds, the Final Grasp for the Fire Eyes Diamonds Could Threaten Them All

Lady Ella Myerston can always find a reason to smile–even if it’s just in hope that tomorrow will be better than today. All her life everyone has tried to protect her from the realities of the world, but Ella knows very well how the dangerous Fire Eyes diamonds have haunted her brother and their friends, and she won’t wait for it to strike again. She intends to take action . . . and if that happens to involve an adventurous trip to the Cotswolds, then so much the better.

Lord James Cayton has already broken two hearts, including that of his first wife, who died before he could convince himself to love her. Now he’s determined to live a better life . . . but that proves complicated when old acquaintances pull Cayton into their desperate attempt to seize the jewels. He does his best to remove the intriguing Lady Ella from danger, but the stubborn girl won’t budge. How else can he redeem himself, though, but by saving her–and his daughter–from those intent to destroy them all?

Link to purchase book: http://amzn.to/2c1fbs5


My thoughts

The Cotswolds, Ralin Castle, March 1913

I fell in love with Roseanna M. White’s writing in the previous Culper Ring series and she has continued to expand her abilities with the Ladies of the Manor stories – and simply impress with her superb prose and enchanting storytelling. A Lady Unrivaled is a top-notch romance with a touch of suspense and a few surprising twists. Historical detail is fascinating, the English countryside setting is vividly conveyed, characters are totally believable and full of charm and wit.

While this is Ella and Cayton’s story, it was so good to see Brook & Justin from The Lost Heiress and Brice & Rowena from The Reluctant Duchess. Each story can stand alone, but I recommend reading the series in order for a more fulfilling experience.

I’ve been drawn to Lord Cayton and Lady Ella throughout the series. Ella is charming, witty, mischievous, and courageous in the way she puts the safety of Brice and Rowena above her own. Cayton is a memorable hero – flawed, in need of redemption from the guilt of his past. As this story begins, he has repented and is striving to be the man God wants him to be – yet, like many of us, he finds forgiveness easier to seek than to accept personally. Cayton’s daughter, Addie, quickly captures the hearts of those around her, and mine as well.

I loved how Ella refuses to tolerate Cayton’s brusque moods and a sweet friendship begins to develop. Their growing relationship and unwilling attraction to each other is precious and there are some quite swoon-worthy moments.

Entwined throughout the series are themes of greed and betrayal – desire for the rare red diamonds, Fire Eyes. A third point of view is added in A Lady Unrivaled, that of Kira Belova – Russian prima ballerina and mistress to the diamonds’ buyer. Kira adds depth to the story and gives us a glimpse of Paris.

The conclusion to a series can sometimes be a letdown, but Ladies of the Manor started out strong and kept getting better. Roseanna always weaves a spiritual thread into her stories, subtle and inspiring. I greatly enjoyed A Lady Unrivaled, as well as the whole series, and eagerly await Roseanna’s next novel.

Highly recommended.

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Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself.

Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels and novellas, ranging from biblical fiction to American-set romances to Edwardian British romances. She makes her home in the breathtaking mountains of West Virginia.

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Thank you to Celebrate Lit and Bethany House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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GIVEAWAY




Roseanna is giving away a complete set of the Ladies of the Manor Series PLUS a special surprise straight from England! Click on the link below to enter. (US addresses only for paperbacks; an international winner is eligible for digital gifts, though!)

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e146afbf28/?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: The Wedding Shop (+ Tour Giveaway)




The Wedding Shop
By Rachel Hauck
The Wedding Collection #3
Zondervan, 2016


Summary

Two women separated by decades. Both set out to help others find their dreams when their own have crumbled.

It’s the early 1930s, but Cora Scott is walking in stride as a career woman after having inherited her great aunt’s wedding shop in Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, where brides come from as far away as Birmingham to experience her famed bridal treatment. Meanwhile, Cora is counting down the days until her own true love returns from the river to make her his bride. But days turn into months and months to years. All the while, Birch Good continues to woo Cora and try to show her that while he is solid and dependable, he can sweep her off her feet.

More than eighty years later, former Air Force Captain Haley Morgan has returned home to Heart’s Bend after finishing her commitment to military service. After the devastating death of her best friend, Tammy, and discovering the truth about the man she loved, Haley is searching for her place in life.

When Haley decides to reopen the romantic but abandoned wedding shop where she and Tammy played and dreamed as children, she begins a journey of courage, mystery, and love.

As Cora’s and Haley’s stories intertwine through time in the shadow of the beloved wedding shop, they both discover the power of their own dreams and the magic of everyday love.


My thoughts

With the Wedding Collection series, Rachel Hauck has created three enchanting stories that are uniquely different and can stand alone, yet all are linked by characters, setting, and a strong spiritual thread. Each story was wonderful and I connected with them all emotionally, but I believe The Wedding Shop was my favorite.

The fictional rural town of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee is the perfect setting for a story filled with a sense of family and community. Southern fiction is a favorite of mine, and there’s lots of southern charm to go around. A dual timeline propels the story, and Rachel has done this well throughout the series – connecting the characters with fascinating storylines that could stand alone.

The characters are extremely well drawn and multi-faceted, easy to connect with. Cora, who owned a wedding shop in the 1930s, was unwisely in love with a charismatic and charming river boat captain. Cora was blind to what other people, the reader included, suspected about him – and isn’t that often true in real life? But I was drawn to her courage, devotion, and ingenuity when it came to helping brides who couldn’t afford a wedding shop gown. And there’s so much to admire in Birch, a strong and tender man who backed up his feelings with caring actions.

Haley, a retired Air Force captain, followed God’s prompting and returned home to Heart’s Bend. “After years in the military, Haley needed to find herself again, her values and integrity, the tenderness of her heart. She’d become callous, hard.” Haley carries a heavy load of past guilt, and I think her spiritual journey is something many readers can identify with. Wounded by his father’s criminal actions in the past, Cole also has some soul searching to do, and I loved the sweet chemistry between these two.

Rachel has a unique way of weaving spiritual themes throughout the story, especially through the use of symbolism - sacrifice, obedience, patience, and divine interruptions being just a few. Through her love for the abandoned and soon-to-be-torn-down wedding shop, Haley reflects the theme of seeing value in something that others reject, a beautiful picture of Jesus.

My favorite scene would have to be when Haley tries on a wedding gown at Charlotte’s shop and finally sees herself in God’s eyes – pure, washed whiter than snow in the blood of Jesus. Charlotte’s words to Haley that speak about the symbolism of the wedding dress are a message for all time in their description of the gospel of Jesus Christ . . . “It fits everyone who tries it on. It’s timeless, never wears out, and never needs to be altered, always in style and always beautiful.”

Highly recommended.

Please click on the titles to see my review of the previous two books in this collection:
The Wedding Dress
The Wedding Chapel

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Rachel Hauck is a USA Today Bestselling author. Her book, The Wedding Dress, was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times and was a RITA finalist. Her book Once Upon A Prince was a Christy Award finalist.

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and two pets and writes from her ivory tower.

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Thank you to Celebrate Lit and Zondervan for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate her tour, Rachel is giving away her Wedding Collection Series! Enter below . . .